I felt physically ill in the post-credits scene of “Tomb Raider.” Actually, it’s more like a pre-credits post-credits scene, because it exists as a standalone joke, apart from the rest of the movie, coming after the title “Tomb Raider” flashes on the screen, but before any credits actually roll.
This pre-credits bumper immediately follows the actual last scene of the movie — which, itself, actually isn’t a regular scene either, throwing away any attempt at cathartic resolution and instead upending previous scenes of the movie, functioning as a teaser trailer for what the next movie in this series may be.
But my physical illness didn’t come from the head-spinning about pre-credits, post-credits, franchise-teaser scenes. It came from the actual content of the bumper. Lara Croft, played by the talented Alicia Vikander, is seen spying, ogling and then purchasing large handguns.
Up until that bumper scene, the filmmakers had opted to emphasize Lara’s physical strength, cunning and skill with a bow and arrow rather than the original video game character’s iconic double-handgun look. I had welcomed that choice, given the cultural tension right now around glorifying firearms.
Until, that is, the final bumper, in which Vikander admires and casually poses with two handguns, saying cheerfully, “I’ll take two.” It’s a moment straight out of an NRA infomercial, and it it leaves a bad taste as the final note of the film.
Nearly everything that happens in the film before that moment, too, is garbage.
The thing about video game characters is that — in video games — they don’t have any agency unto themselves. They move when you want them to move, do what you direct them to do. In story-based games, narrative beats click into place after certain objectives are met or after you direct the characters into certain spots.
In that way, the latest “Tomb Raider” — which resets the movie franchise that originally starred Angelina Jolie — is very much a video game movie. Characters, including and especially Lara herself, seem to have no agency unto themselves, propelled in every scene by happenstance and coincidence. It’s like they’re being controlled, remotely, from a force outside of themselves. Perhaps that outside force is the current lack of creativity or daring in studio franchise filmmaking?
To illustrate this point with one example, there’s a scene in which a handful of characters find themselves at the brink of a massive chasm. Below, the bones of hundreds of previous adventurous souls. The gang, which includes both the film’s villains as well as Lara, cooperating here for very dubious reasons, lays down a shoddy ladder, at which point in time the villain nods — not even especially threateningly — for Lara to walk across. She acquiesces for no apparent reason and without any argument.
Simply put, there doesn’t need to be a reason why it happens: It’s simply the next level in the video game. It happens because it’s the thing that happens next.
Director Roar Uthaug borrows heavily from preexisting, superior material, especially the work of Steven Spielberg. Three quarters of the action borrows from “Indiana Jones” and the rest uses “Jurassic Park” island imagery.
But noticing the similarities to Spielberg while watching “Tomb Raider” distracted me into thinking about how much better his other film with “Raider” in the title was. The “Indiana Jones” films are iconic. They have intricate action choreography, daring stunts, a brilliant musical score. This “Raider” is not iconic.
And this is not a get-off-my-lawn nostalgia grump-fest. While I point to early Spielberg work as iconic, I will just as readily point to “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Baby Driver” and “Wonder Woman” as being recent movies with beating pulses of imagination that managed to break through in today’s cinematic climate.
“Tomb Raider” does have one good scene involving a tetanus-laced airplane and a waterfall, and the movie starts out promisingly enough with a half-decent scene involving a bike chase.
But the vast majority of “Tomb Raider” is uninspired, derivative, borderline offensive dreck. It has no imagination whatsoever. It encapsulates the worst tendencies in Hollywood, and I wish it didn’t exist.
Director: Roar Uthaug
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins
Running time: 1 hour, 58 min
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and for some language